It only took a few short years for Pinterest to claim the title as the third most popular social networking site behind Facebook and Twitter. Its appeal is simple: Users post "pins," or images, of their dream home, car or personal styles, and followers can click on those images to access the site where those items can be purchased. It’s the latter that drew the interest of Joe Ciaccia.
The social media and web manager for New York’s Bay Ridge Toyota and Toyota of Manhattan discovered the power of Pinterest when he was looking for decorating ideas for his new home. He simply clicked on the site’s "home décor" category to find his muse, clicked on the pins he liked and bought every piece of furniture and decoration he saw.
"That’s when I thought: I could use this for the dealership," he says. "If I can create this kind of thing with cars, people can see pictures of the newest Camry and it might have the same effect."
Since that revelation four months ago, Ciaccia has collected nearly 500 followers for Bay Ridge’s Pinterest page by sharing humorous, inspirational and visually appealing pins. Those images have also been re-pinned, "Liked" and commented on by hundreds of users. Ciaccia’s next step is to link the pins to his website, where customers will be able to click through to find lease prices or lead-generation forms.
Steve Rayman Chevrolet has also taken to the nearly three-year-old social network. With more than 150 followers, Ray Whitlow, social media director at the metro Atlanta-based store, is following the same strategy that drew 43,000 likes to his dealership’s Facebook page and 4,200-plus followers to its Google+ account.
"Our sales have increased a good bit. A lot of it we attribute to social media," says Whitlow, adding that the dealership is rolling more than 300 vehicles per month since hopping onto social media last year. "Before then, we were nowhere near where we’re at right now in sales."
Ciaccia and Whitlow don’t know when their work on Pinterest will pay off, but they have faith that it eventually will. And with behavioral commerce company SteelHouse reporting that 59 percent of users of the photo-based social network having purchased an item they saw vs. 33 percent for Facebook, that payoff might be bigger than they imagined. Until that time, they’ll continue to use the social platform as a customer-retention tool and try not to overwhelm users with sales pitches.
Buying Into Pinterest
Pinterest was founded on Thanksgiving 2009 after co-founders Evan Sharp, Paul Sciarra and CEO Ben Silbermann launched the first pinboards, or photo albums, by inviting about 100 friends via e-mail. Despite the site’s virtual overnight success, the founders have shied away from media interviews, choosing instead to let their social network grow with little fanfare and free of advertisements.
The site has experimented with affiliate links in the past, but discontinued the practice after being criticized for not disclosing what it was allowing marketers to do. The company continues to search for a better way to allow marketers to use the site, but a spokesperson for Pinterest would not divulge any upcoming plans for advertising.
"Our focus right now is not on monetizing, but we have tried a few things out to better understand how people use the service," the spokesperson told F&I and Showroom magazine. "We want to be a profitable company, but we want to make sure whatever model we eventually use works with customers. We haven’t decided on one way to do it."
Ciaccia says his dealership plans to advertise on the site. He predicts that Pinterest will adopt an advertising model similar to Facebook’s sponsored ads. "You’ll post a picture and a little star will show up in the corner and it’ll say ‘promoted.’ That way it’s in your news feed, but it’ll say ‘promoted’ and it’ll stay up there for a while," he says.
Whatever model Pinterest employs, Ciaccia looks forward to accessing geo-targeting features if and when they’re available. "Now you can’t guarantee your followers are in your area," he says. "A lot of them aren’t within capability, but, at the same time, the more followers you have, you’re increasing your chances that someone in New York will see it."
Whitlow doesn’t believe in paid advertising on social media, and he’s not a fan of geo-targeting. He says it limits his store’s marketing reach. "We’ve had at least two instances where people found out about us on social media and flew down from Chicago. They didn’t feel comfortable buying from their local dealer," says Whitlow, whose store attracts customers from as far as Alabama, Arizona and the Carolinas. "So that’s why we don’t ignore anybody at all."
Wooing the Ladies
What has marketers excited about Pinterest is the fact that it has attracted, in big numbers, the demographic that, according to Girlpower Marketing, makes or influences 85 percent of purchasing decisions: women. Today, 60 percent of Pinterest’s 13 million users are female, according to Experian Digital Marketing. That holds true for Bay Ridge Toyota, where Ciaccia reports that 65 percent of the store’s Pinterest followers are women.
Steve Rayman Chevrolet’s Whitlow didn’t have a demographic breakdown, but he says he is seeing substantially more traffic from females who say they found his store on Pinterest.
Jody DeVere, CEO of AskPatty.com, also has taken note of Pinterest’s biggest demographic. Founded in 2006, her firm educates women about the car-buying process and coaches dealers on how to market to them. While she says it’s too early to know exactly how to be successful on Pinterest, DeVere believes that photos of dealers connecting through community events or organizations are more appealing to women than a photo of a car with a price tag. Infographic pins also are of interest to females, she adds.
"We believe women love automotive education, so dealers should use content that provides value," she says. "Isn’t that what we’re sharing anyway: recipes and clothing recommendations?"
DeVere also recommends posting coupons on Pinterest once the dealership has established attractive and varied pinboards. "I do believe you should post your coupons, because couponing has become a competitive sport for women," she explains. "It is a good idea to have a separate board for any special offers that you have, but it can’t just be that. Women do business with companies they like and respect."
Acknowledging the site’s substantial female fan base, the Pinterest spokesperson says men are beginning to take to the site as well. "People who initially discovered Pinterest were largely women who were pinning for hobbies or activities, and they attracted like-minded ‘pinners,’" she stated in an e-mail. "However, we believe our demographics will shift over time as more people discover the many different ways in which Pinterest can be used. We’re already seeing more men actively joining the site and expect for that to continue."
The site’s female base is attractive to Ciaccia, but what he really likes is how well Pinterest plays with search engines. "Believe it or not, my Bay Ridge Toyota website, at least for a while, was showing up on Google searches below my Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest pages, so we do get a lot of SEO help from Pinterest," he says. "We had to revise our SEO strategy for the website to change that, but we utilize all of these sites to drive more traffic to our website."
Whitlow’s experience has been similar, saying that many of his pins are beginning to show up on Google Images searches. "We expect that to increase as our content increases," he says, adding that Pinterest’s content provokes more search results when people ‘re-pin’ or share what he adds onto the site.
Another promising sign for marketers is that Pinterest users, according to Experian Hitwise, aren’t necessarily looking for or pinning their dream car or house. Heather Dougherty, who heads up the service, says her team discovered that, among all manufacturers, Volkswagen attracts the most click-throughs to its site from images posted on Pinterest. Harley-Davidson and Toyota are No. 2 and 3, respectively, Dougherty adds. "A lot of people are using pinboards as inspiration, so we thought for sure luxury brands would be a good target, but we were surprised [with our findings]," she says.
"Home" is the top category among Pinterest users, according to enterprise software developer RJ Metrics. The Philadelphia-based firm found that 17.2 percent of all pinboards are categorized as "Home," followed by "Arts and Crafts" (12.4), "Style/Fashion" (11.7), "Food" (10.5), and "Inspiration/Education" (9.0). Although the "Cars and Motorcycles" category is not ranked among the highest overall, Experian Hitwise’s data shows a 299 percent increase between May 2011 and May 2012 in downstream online traffic from Pinterest to automotive sites. Of the 170 industries the firm tracks, automotive websites rank 66th on the list of highest click-throughs from Pinterest.
"There is a lot of content around recipes and similar ideas, so if people post about their car, it almost works as a personal review or recommendation," she says. "It’s a place for potential car buyers to compare cars in the way that they would almost anywhere. It’s still a very good place for content and it doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to e-commerce."
Dougherty recommends that dealers look at their designated market areas to see where Pinterest users are more likely to be, which will provide stores with a better sense of who they’re reaching with their pins. She also warns that dealers need to decide whether they want their content to be shared on Pinterest, which offers an embed code for companies to opt out of content sharing on the site.
"It’s always kind of the conundrum in terms of a brand: ‘Am I going to lose control of my brand?’ Sometimes you need to turn on the faucet and see what happens," she says.
Images aren’t the only thing dealers need to worry about. Businesses that are not completely ready for Pinterest might want to at least sign up to prevent Pinterest users from using their store’s name to launch their own page. That’s what happened to Toyota after a Pinterest user created "pinterest.com/Toyota." While a preventative policy is not in place, Pinterest officials say they do respond to claims of copyright infringement, and will disable accounts of repeat offenders.
Pinning For Sales
Firms specializing in dealer marketing are already shepherding dealers onto the visual "curation" site. What they see are stats like the ones issued by Shop.org, comScore and The Partnership Group, which show that Pinterest users follow, on average, 9.3 retail outlets vs. 6.9 and 8.5 on Facebook and Twitter, respectively. That’s why George Nenni, an executive with Dominion Dealer Solutions, says dealers need to "stick their toe in the water."
"We’ve seen dealers see success in creating enthusiasm for a car model," he says. Asked how Pinterest fits in with a dealer’s existing advertising and marketing mix, Nenni responds with a few questions of his own.
"Where in media do people spend their time?" he asks. "That’s where I want to put my attention. Why not capture that audience on Pinterest? It’s so low effort, and it’s such a high get."
Experian’s Dougherty believes Pinterest does have staying power, but she doesn’t believe users will ever have to choose between the photo-based social network and Twitter or Facebook. Based on the data her firm tracks, people don’t limit themselves to just one site. Instead, they use multiple social sites, and will even cross-reference what they do on Pinterest with Facebook and Twitter. As for Pinterest overtaking the other two sites, Dougherty isn’t so sure.
"It certainly could," she says. "The growth has flattened somewhat over the past four months or so, but we’re still seeing where it was up exponentially about 82 times the volume of visits in June compared to last June. … Being able to start later and being able to learn from others’ mistakes is always going to be a benefit."
That’s why Steve Rayman Chevrolet made Whitlow, not the sales team, the last contact for customers before they drive off in their new car. He asks them which social media sites they’re into and what online reviews they read before visiting the dealership. He also uses the time to make sure his store has met their expectations.
"Our social media and our delivery process are one and the same now," Whitlow says. "The conversation I have with them, and the fact that I am the only one not asking for money from them, breaks the ice and the information I need just pours out. I am the last impression of the dealership that they leave with."